References to cultural wellbeing are welcomed, but some are concerned that the NPPF has not done enough to protect the arts and culture
A campaign led by the Theatres Trust has been successful in lobbying for arts and culture to be included in the government’s new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). Director of The Theatres Trust Mhora Samuel, said “Today we celebrate a national planning policy that not only recognises culture, it also creates specific policies that both plan positively for cultural facilities and guard against their loss.”
The draft NPPF was published in July last year, aiming to sweep away the complexity of the previous policy, which ran to 1,300 pages. This led to protest in the arts and culture sector as the new policy proposals made no reference to culture or the arts (AP241). Left without guidance on how to include cultural policies in local plans, local authorities would have been subject to pressure to plan in accordance with the NPPF’s limited view of ‘sustainable development’, which the Commons Select Committee described as inadequately defined and often conflated with 'sustainable economic growth'.
The new Framework, a mere 50 pages long, recognises that a key dimension of ‘sustainable development’ is its social role; supporting “cultural well-being” through the provision of a “high quality built environment, with accessible local services.” It aims to hand greater power over to communities with the introduction of local plans, which will be responsive to local people's views but set within the parameters of the Framework.
The NPPF states that a range of suitable sites should be allocated for cultural development, in order to meet the needs of each town, and assessments should be undertaken to ensure that suitable sites for theatres, museums, galleries and concert halls are available. It also recognises the need to plan positively and guard against the unnecessary loss of valued cultural facilities and services. Specific reference is made to promoting the retention and development of community facilities in rural areas. Jonathan Banks, Chief Executive of public art think tank ixia, said: “...it is critical that public art is embedded within local planning documents. ixia will provide further guidance on the relationship between public art and the planning system as the full impact of the NPPF becomes clear.”
Concerns have been raised by the National Campaign for the Arts (NCA) that despite the inclusion of the cultural industries, the NPPF does not go far enough to secure the sector’s protection: “the NPPF’s recognition of culture tails off… recognition must be a constant and must be explicit.” Theatres Trust is keen for a more consistent cultural voice to be raised within the planning system. In response it is bringing together 19 arts and cultural organisations to form the Culture in Planning Alliance. Members include ixia, the National Federation of Artist Studio Providers, Arts Development UK and Voluntary Arts. The group aims to promote the role of arts and culture in the planning system, share expertise and produce guidance on cultural planning.